I can pinpoint the moment, at the age of seven, when I acquired my neurotic fear of abandonment: It was after a summer school class, when I was returned to the parent pick-up area in the high school cafeteria and I could not, for a few minutes, locate my family. It had never occurred to me that I might have to fend for myself, and I clearly remember the shock of realizing that I might exist, at times, as an individual, rather than a cog in a collective familial machine and that it is possible for a person to find themselves completely unexpectedly alone.
That may be why I pair so well with my partner, who revels in his independence to the point of being completely inscrutable to others. His sister likes to tell the story of the time she was hanging out with friends and he wandered through the room, a jar of Nutella in one hand and a lightsaber in the other. “What are you doing?” she asked, and he shrugged, “my thing,” before disappearing in the basement.
People are like volcanic islands, in that we may appear to be disconnected but below the surface reefs connect us, and those connections are exposed by the ebb of the tide. This week’s comics touch upon that balance of isolation and connection, and the surprising ways in which loners might discover that they are not as isolated or unloved as they might have thought. Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to pick out this week’s best comics — the store has recently resumed its community game nights, yet another opportunity to feel less alone.
MAN-EATERS: THE CURSED ISSUE #1
If MTV isn’t going to make new episodes of the show Daria, this is the next best thing. A cynical, sarcastic teen is sent to a weeklong craft camp somewhere in the wilds of Oregon; and although something sinister seems to be lurking just out of view, wouldn’t you know it, our heroine manages to muster the energy for deadpan quips. Camp-gone-wrong is a favorite trope of the young-adult comic genre, in part because it provides an easy justification to tell a story without cellphones, the one tool that would solve the entire dilemma in seconds. You could assemble an entire bookshelf full of books with premises just like this one; but few would land the comedy as deftly or introduce characters as funny or spooky. This series follows in the footsteps of the same team’s 2019 book Man-Eaters, in which a 12-year-old girl must save the world when a mutated micro-organism causes humans to turn into killer catpeople whenever they menstruate. The Cursed is just as off-the-wall, subversive, and sly — with a hint of supernatural humor-horror.
Rating: ⛺⛺⛺⛺ (4/5)
Writer: Chelsea Cain. Artists: Kate Niemczyk, Lia Miternique. Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg. Letterer: Joe Caramanga. Poem & Post-it Lettering: Elisa Fantastic Mohan. Haiku: Emily Powell. Additional Interior Art: Stella Greenvoss.
MOUSE GUARD: THE OWLHEN CAREGIVER
Writer and artist David Petersen has achieved something remarkable with his Mouse Guard series, which is to create a universe of fables and morality tales that feel as though they’ve been handed down for centuries. This latest issue is lamentably slim — the lovely art really calls out for hardcover — but is welcome nonetheless. We’re treated to three short stories that, like a Grimm Brothers or Aesop fable, feature talking animals who learn a potent lesson; though humans do not seem to exist in this world, each story is infused with humanity. As with many of the Mouse Guard works, the stories are told with great speed, almost always in summary instead of scene. They are quick reads, or at least they would be if the lettering was a bit more legible; my one complaint about the book is that some of the calligraphic fonts are gorgeous but rather challenging to decipher. As always, the juxtaposition of adorable little rodents with gruesome battles is effectively jarring, and flow nicely between moments of tender reflection on lessons learned. Every page is gorgeous enough to want as a wall hanging. A must-have for Mouse Guard collectors, and a nice entry point for those new to the series.
Rating: 🐁🐁🐁🐁 (4/5)
Writer and artist: David Petersen.
BEYOND THE BREACH ISSUE #1
I often complain that horror stories spend too much time up top on character exposition and world-building, unnecessarily delaying the actual start of the adventure. That is not an issue with Beyond the Breach, which launches exuberantly into a terrifying car crash, followed by the arrival of disgusting monsters. What are these creatures and why are they here? Who are the unlikely survivors thrown together into this mayhem? What the hell is going on? There are no answers to these questions, nor is there any time to even ask them if our heroes want to survive. The story wastes no time with “so, where are you from” small-talk — instead, we’re immediately dashing from one gory catastrophe to another, every page laced with adrenaline until the final cliffhanger, which features a moment of violence that is genuinely startling (no small feat for a story that has already been quite gross) and made me audibly groan with impatience for the next issue. Perhaps that one will offer some down time in which our heroes will get to make proper introductions; but I wouldn’t be mad if we never learn about their pasts, and instead get to know them through the panic of desperate, creative survival.
Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛🐛 (5/5)
Writer: Ed Brisson. Artist: Damian Couceiro.
ALSO: A KID GHOST-HUNTER and THE MARVEL UNIVERSE EXPLAINED
Also of interest this week: Alone in Space, a pretty hardback collection of short stories about loneliness and, get this, space. There’s also Ghoul Next Door, about a reluctant 11-year-old ghost hunter. And check out two beautiful reprints from Marvel: The first is Ultimate by Al Ewing: Complete Collection, which gathers stories of various fan-favorite characters spanning the last six years; the second is History of the Marvel Universe, a 2019 book that explains (as best as one can) the entire timeline of Marvel mythology. It’s a handy reference, particularly for anyone trying to untangle the ever-growing roster of characters from TV and film.